A 2008 study may have debunked the adage that cold hands mean a warm heart. Research suggests that warming the hands may lead to feelings of warmth toward other people.
But when hands feel unusually warm all the time, increased blood flow, infection, and other medical issues may be responsible.
People who have warm hands should not diagnose themselves based on this symptom alone. Other symptoms and a person's medical history can help a doctor to determine whether something is wrong.
Causes of warm hands
The following medical issues and other factors can lead to warm hands:
1. External temperature changes
Physical activity, changes in weather, and wearing layers over the hands can cause the hands to become warm.
When the weather is hot, the hands may be too. Some people notice that their hands feel very hot after gardening outside in gardening gloves. Any activity that involves the hands being covered in sunny weather can cause them to feel warmer than the rest of the body.
Cold weather can also have this effect, particularly in people who have been wearing gloves or who are very sensitive to temperature changes. In this case, warm hands simply indicate a contrast between the warmth of the body and the temperature outdoors.
Exercise increases blood flow, so any activity that involves frequent or intense hand movement can temporarily leave them feeling warm. People who spend long periods typing, writing, or doing grip exercises may notice that their hands feel warm for a few minutes afterward.
No treatment or medical follow-up is necessary when movement is clearly responsible for the warmth.
3. High blood pressure
Because increased blood flow to an area of the body can make it feel warm, people with high blood pressure may have warm hands or feet. A simple test can assess whether high blood pressure is a factor.
4. Cellulitis and other infections
An elevated temperature can help the body to fight infection. This is why an infected area tends to feel warm, and the hands are no exception.
An infection called cellulitis is often responsible. This infection occurs deep in skin tissue and can spread quickly.
People usually develop cellulitis after an injury, but even the tiniest cut can allow the bacteria to enter the body.
If the hands are hot, swollen, painful, or red, cellulitis could be the culprit. Anyone who suspects that they have this condition should see a doctor.
5. Inflammatory conditions
Inflammation is one way that the body fights infections. Some medical conditions cause parts of the body to be chronically inflamed, allowing more blood to flow to the infected area.
Inflammatory disorders affecting the hands or wrists can lead to an unusual feeling of warmth.
People with rheumatoid arthritis in their fingers or wrists may have pain, weakness, and difficulty moving these areas.
6. Carpal tunnel syndrome
Early symptoms include numbness, tingling, or burning in the affected hand or wrist. In addition to feeling hot, the hands may shake or feel weak.
7. Peripheral neuropathy
The nerve damage can cause the hands to feel hot, even when they are not. Also, some people find that their hands or feet become very sensitive to changes in temperature.
Fibromyalgia affects the nerves and can cause sensitivity to temperature changes.
Fibromyalgia is a long-term condition that involves widespread muscle pain and areas of tenderness throughout the body. It is little understood, but many researchers believe that the pain is caused by nerve hyperactivity.
Some people with fibromyalgia are sensitive to changes in temperature, and they may have hot or cold sensations in their hands.
The pain is often described as burning, so people with fibromyalgia-related pain in the hands may also have a sensation of warmth.
This rare disorder often affects the feet and, less commonly, the hands. It remains poorly understood, but some researchers believe that it may be caused by changes in blood vessels.
Erythromelalgia can lead to an intense burning sensation, as well as itching, redness, and a feeling that the hands are hot. This feeling usually lasts for a few hours at a time and often gets worse in very warm weather.
Warm hands are a symptom, not a medical condition. Not all cases require treatment, and the right treatment depends on the underlying cause.
A doctor will ask about other symptoms, such as pain. They will also ask how long the feeling of warmth has lasted.
Depending on the diagnosis, a doctor may suggest:
- High blood pressure: lifestyle changes, exercise, weight loss, dietary adjustments, blood pressure medication, and regular monitoring
- Cellulitis: antibiotics
- Peripheral neuropathy: treatment for the underlying cause and pain medication
- Inflammatory conditions: nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), lifestyle changes, physical therapy, drugs that suppress the immune system, and complementary treatments such as acupuncture
- Fibromyalgia: exercise, antidepressants, medications, lifestyle changes, and complementary or alternative treatments
- Erythromelalgia: NSAIDs and pain medication
When to see a doctor
If warm hands cause distress or pain, a person should talk to a doctor.
When the cause of warm hands is likely harmless, such as exercise or a change in weather, a person can wait to see if the warmth goes away on its own. Otherwise, it is important to consult a doctor.
Warm hands may be the first symptom of a severe medical condition. Receiving medical attention at an early stage can make treatment easier and more effective.
Seek immediate medical care if warm hands accompany symptoms that can indicate a medical emergency, such as a racing heartbeat, confusion, or a high fever.
The hands reveal a lot about health, and because they play a prominent role in many activities, it may be easier to notice hand-related symptoms.
Temperature is not always consistent throughout the body. While having warm hands is not always a cause for concern, the symptom can indicate a more serious underlying issue.
Talk to a doctor when changes in the body's temperature are causing concern. Even when nothing is wrong, the peace of mind is worth the effort.